Page images

Having thus considered the institution of the Lord's Supper and the essential ideas contained in it, we may now inquire, practically, how we should receive it, when we should receive it, with what special preparation and forethought, and what benefits we may expect to derive from it.

Of the manner in which it should be celebrated, we may simply say, that although the form is not the essential thing, yet it must be admitted that a service so sacred as the Lord's Supper should be celebrated with reverence. No loose or careless utterance should mar the solemn rite. It may be preceded by a sermon or an address, but at the table there should be no exhortation or remarks of any sort. The prayers should be very brief, being simply a giving of thanks, according to our Lord's example. The bread should be broken and handed to the deacons with his unfailing words: “Take, eat; this is my body, broken for you: this do in remembrance of me; for as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” And, likewise, with the cup, not suffering any careless variation or addition : “This cup is the New Testament in my blood : take and drink ye all of it; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” With these introductions, the service is to be a silent one, troubled with no casual observations or appeals, however eloquent, but leaving those who partake to their own private interview with the Master, who comforts them in the remembrance of friends gone to dwell with him, or touches their hearts with penitence and grateful love and purpose of better service. The communion is all the richer because of an unrestricted invitation to all who have confessed Christ, in whatever church, and who love him in sincerity. Thus children of God, of many names and forms, unite to adorn and enlarge the thought of Communion with that great multitude which no man can number, out of every kindred and nation and people and tongue.

The presence of others who may be willing to remain sitting in the congregation is to be welcomed and encouraged, for the service is so impressive in its simplicity, that to the very looker-on it is a powerful motive; as the immortal picture of Leonardo, to his own and all after ages, has been a source of vital impression beyond the scope of art. The Lord's Supper is an acted parable, not in the Romish Church chiefly, where, in the Mass, it has the accessories of incense and candles and a kneeling throng; but far more, I think, to the thoughtful mind, in our silent service, where each sincere disciple is invited to take his humble part. Many, I believe, can recall the impression received in early days, when the observance was first witnessed, and nothing is more desirable than that it should be so fulfilled as that the mere looker-on should share in the power of this silent invitation to follow Christ.

The question, when it should be observed, is variously answered. Some have said, every Lord's day, as did the early disciples. Romish priests in many places celebrate the Mass every day, and in the Anglican Church, by that or some other name, the solemn rite is often repeated. Reformed churches have deemed it wiser to have less frequent and more united services; for, even in prelatical churches, it is not expected that the same communicants should partake often. Indeed, once a year is about as often as many, who are called good Catholics, participate. Thus, the extreme frequency is limited, more and more, to the clergy or devotees, while ordinary believers partake irregularly, or at long intervals. The idea of Communion is lost to a great extent, for when but few or one or two partake, the fellowship of the church is forgotten.

On the whole, then, the observance of the Lord's Supper should be for each particular church not more than once a month. In many churches it is only once in two or three months. In a few it is every month. May I say from experience of more than one generation, that the custom has the advantage of making the service more prominent and of lessening the interval, where from sickness or other causes one is detained from the sacred privilege. If, too, it be considered an impressive invitation to come and share in the new life with Christ, surely it were well that it be not too seldom observed, and opportunity is thus more expressly given to come and join in the simple confession that signifies entrance into full membership with the church.

Other occasions of a more general nature are appropriate to the Communion, and may be specially impressive. Conferences and associations of ministers and churches find place for such observance, and should see to it that the service is reverently performed, and not made subordinate to speech-making, or carelessly neglected. Missionaries in the far East have often described the comfort and strength derived from such occasions where members of different denominations, and laborers under different boards, have found refreshment in the hallowed feast. Our Western missionaries, no less, who travel hundreds of miles to find their brethren, testify to the peculiar joy and help of this true communion, bringing back the memory of similar occasions, when Paul and Barnabas and their fellow laborers broke bread together.

Still another question remains to us, regarding preparation for the service. So simple was the early observance, that preparation was hardly thought of, but, doubtless it was an occasion for recalling the discourses of Jesus in the gospel of John. In place of the Confessional, Protestants have put the preparatory lecture, so called. In former times it was made a somewhat severe arraignment, and in Scotland, tickets were given out to those whom the pastor or elders thought worthy. “Without a token, which was a metal lozenge,” says James Barrie, no one could take the sacrament on the coming Sabbath, and many a member has been made miserable by losing his token, for gathering wild flowers, say, on the Lord's day, as testified by another member.” There was also the ceremony of “fencing the tables," or warning off unworthy persons who might have presented themselves, even if they had tokens permitting them to come. From all these threats and severities the hard-hearted and brazen might escape, while sensitive spirits were driven away. There is always more need of encouragement than of threatening, and Thomas à Kempis gives better advice than some of later days. “Do not,” he says, “omit the Communion for every small vexation and trouble, but rather proceed at once to consess thy sins, and cheerfully forgive others whatever offences they have done against thee, and if thou hast offended any, humbly crave pardon, and God will readily forgive thee. Oftentimes a too great solicitude for obtaining a certain height of devotion and a kind of anxiety about the confession of sins hindereth thee. Follow herein the counsel of the wise, and lay aside anxiety and scrupulousness, for it hindereth the grace of God and overthroweth the devotion of the mind. What availeth it to delay long the confession of thy sins, or to defer the Holy Communion? If thou omit it now for one cause, next time another of greater force may occur to thee, and so thou may be hindered a long time from communion and grow more and more unfit." Thus speaks the devout à Kempis, in an age when we should hardly expect such Christlike gentleness, and we may well heed his voice as calling us to a more humble yet faithful observance of the Lord's Supper.

The benefits to be derived from it will be in proportion to the right apprehension of its meaning. This parable of the gospel, properly set forth, will go far toward keeping us from loose or superstitious views of the atonement. We cannot lightly regard the person or work of Christ, or his great love for us, when symbolized in this manner. Systems and theories fade in the contemplation of his self-surrender for us, - “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." This spirit of controversy dies in the presence of his command to love one another. His life is transferred into ours. “Because I live ye shall live also.” If Christ be the centre of all true reconciliation to God, the promise of forgiveness, the herald of oneness with the Father, the devout partaker does not dwell on creeds or explanations, but is at peace in him.

As has been truly said: “No effort has been made to explain the great transaction on Calvary, but it is held up before the people as if it needed or could have no explanation, or as though the simple event in itself spoke with direct plainness and power to the Christian heart."

On the other hand, superstition can hardly find place when the service is simply performed, not with lighted candles and the priest making an offering while his back is towards the people. This is a reasonable service; that is, as the margin interprets, a spiritual service, with no grace outwardly bestowed upon us, but only received by the child-like heart.

Here is no oblation performed by priests; for, as Dr. A. V. G. Allen has shown, " The formula of the early church was that God stood in no need of sacrifices or offerings, and therefore it was unbecoming to present them to him.” The Greek conception is akin to the Protestant view that asserts the necessity of faith in order to any helpful reception of the sacrament.

In company with other followers of Christ sitting by us, we feel that here is a communion such as the Lord had with his disciples, when he sat at the same table, and the simplicity of the scene comes back to us, and in humble acknowledgment of our own failures, we are strengthened by the faith of others, and pray, not for ourselves only, but that all may have grace for better living. If we are to bring forth fruit we must abide in Christ. And thus the Communion becomes the motive to such abiding, so that it cannot be an "opus operatum," by which we are satisfied with ourselves, but a holy impulse from the loving Saviour, helping us to forget ourselves and press forward in the divine life.

Now for new conquests over sin, now for new ways of help to struggling souls, now for an unfailing courage beating within our hearts, assuring us, that as Jesus himself was sent into the world, so he sends us to live by his life and sanctify ourselves for the sake of others, until we, like him, have “finished the work that our Father has given us to do.”

Is there not danger, in some of our churches, of lightly regarding the Lord's Supper? Do not many neglect it, and when we meet together on public occasions, is it not often disregarded, or thrust into a subordinate place? Our young people need instruction in the value of this ordinance, and the grace by which it may be made both a starting point and a measure of Christian growth. By it we show forth the Lord's death, - the strength of his love that endured to the end. Sometimes it seems to be forgotten that here we have the most important of all the means of grace. Each communion should be regarded as a special invitation from the Lord “ to come up higher.” More than once it is said of the disciples that "Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread."

Ought we not to rise to a higher conception of the Lord's Supper, and the grace to be derived from it, as we sing that hymn, written in the year 1800 by one of the fathers of our own fellowship, Timothy Dwight, and sung not by us only, but by the whole church throughout the world, “I Love thy Kingdom, Lord,” one of whose verses is this :

“ Beyond my highest joy,

I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,

Her hymns of love and praise.”



REV. WILLIAM H. BOLSTER, NASHUA, NEW HAMPSHIRE. Philosophy has been defined as the "age-long effort of the mind of man to get a fully articulated conception of the universe as rational.” It has been more briefly defined as the rational system

1 Page 22.

« PreviousContinue »